This week’s haftorah reveals to us the true nature of Eisav and his descendent Edom and displays their two- sided character. It teaches us to recognize Eisav’s perpetual hatred for Yisroel and never to trust in his friendship. Although there may be moments when Eisav displays true brotherhood we should be wary of these situations. The haftorah warns us to remember the hatred Eisav harbors and never to establish any close association with him.
The haftorah opens with a moving description of a plot acted out against Edom, descendents of Eisav. The prophet Ovadiah says, “How was Eisav pillaged, his hidden treasures sought out? To the borders they sent you (Eisav), all of your allies enticed you: they were (then) capable of getting at you.” These passages refer to a historic moment when Edom’s surrounding allies rushed to his assistance in a war he waged against a powerful neighbor.
They accompanied Edom all the way to his borders and then abandoned him, leaving his entire country unprotected. They then returned inside his country and invaded the entire Edom, now in its most vulnerable state. The prophet draws our attention to this peculiar episode to demonstrate the unique quality of Edom’s “brotherhood”. Although Edom appeared to be a true ally this relationship was only external and when the opportunity presented itself he would typically turn against his “friends”. This time, his allies gave him a taste of his own medicine and, after luring Edom into war, turned on him and pillaged his entire country.
This two sided nature was the undertone of our Jewish nation’s sad experience throughout the Roman Empire, largely composed of the descendents of Eisav. The prophet Ovadiah focuses on one specific aspect of this era, the role that the Edomites played in the destruction of the second Temple. Ovadiah says, “On the day that the nations took the Jews captive, entered the Jewish gates and cast lots over Yerushalayim, you were also amongst them.” In truth, this war belonged to the Romans but Edom could not stand idly by and therefore gladly participated in destroying the walls of the Bais Hamikdash. The Malbim reminds us that these descendents of Edom were insincere Jewish converts accepted during the reign of Herod. They originally appeared to be sincere and embraced the Jewish people and its religion. But, as usual, Edom was not be trusted and when the Jews were down these alleged converts turned against their Jewish “brethren” and readily assisted in destroying them.
This hidden hatred expressed itself even in the early Babylonian exile when Eisav’s descendents offered their services to drive the final nails into the Jewish coffin. The Prophet Ovadiah says, “And don’t stand by the crossroads to finish off his (Yaakov’s) refugees.” The Yalkut Shimoni explains that this passage refers to the cunning strategy of Edom during our early exile. They would station themselves a short distance behind the Babylonian army and wait in ambush for the Jewish refugees. They reasoned, “If the Jews win we’ll say we”re here to help them and if the Babylonians win we’ll help them and kill the remaining Jews.” Again we are reminded of the unique “brotherhood” of Edom. They passed for true brothers awaiting to help the Jews in their time of distress but in truth this disguise provided them the perfect opportunity of erasing any trace of the Jewish people, should the situation arise.
Edom’s pattern of “brotherhood” traces itself all the way back to Edom’s predecessor Eisav. In this week’s sedra we find Eisav running towards his brother Yaakov to embrace him. Eisav was Yaakov’s archenemy from birth but now he had finally experienced a change of attitude and feeling. The Torah tells us (Bereishis 32:4) that in response to an elaborate gift of friendship, Eisav ran to this brother and embraced him, fell on his neck and “kissed” him. However, Chazal note the peculiar manner in which the word “kissed” appears in the Torah and explain that Eisav did not truly intend to kiss his brother. He actually attempted to bite him but was unsuccessful in his endeavor. His perpetual hatred was so deep that even in this moment of friendship Eisav could not contain his inner feelings and felt compelled to express them. Rashi (ad loc) quotes the classic statement of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai who reminds us, “It is a set principle that Eisav hates Yaakov.” He warns us never to lose sight of Eisav’s inner hatred and even when gestures of “friendship” are displayed never to forget the deep hatred that lies under the surface. Eisav, now Edom will never be our real friend and we must therefore never permit him any close association with us.